I have been eagerly anticipating Anya Wylde's second novel, Penelope, ever since I learned it was to feature a country bumpkin of a heroine and her pet goat. I greatly enjoyed reading Wylde's debut novel, and hoped the second one would be just as fun. The resulting story was a disappointment in a few respects, but remained gratifying in others. Specifically, I would not have been impressed with the novel if it had been written as a straightforward historical romance. With only a half-hearted adherence to propriety, a vocabulary that included the word "ginormous," and a suspiciously knowledgeable physician... the novel did not scream "historical accuracy" to me. Likewise, while there were several tender moments between the protagonists... those moments seemed to be the exception rather than the rule. The majority of the romance plot consisted of the hero and heroine fighting with each other frequently, repressing their mutual attraction until the end. It really would not be fair to judge the novel by typical standards, however, because Wylde's books are first and foremost comedies. And - as a lighthearted and rather farcical comedy, a "madcap regency romance" if you will - Penelope is a resounding success. The firmly tongue-in-cheek storyline follows the bumbling heroine through her misadventures in London. The silly events, along with the outlandish metaphors Wylde frequently employs, keeps the reader alternatively grinning or chuckling from beginning to end. The final resolution is also satisfying, with a surprisingly endearing proposal and a tidy HEA.
The primary ensemble of characters in the novel consist of the heroine, the hero, the hero's sister, and the hero's mother. And, of course, the heroine's goat. The storyline opens with the heroine arriving at the hero's house. The hero's mother was a close friend of the heroine's deceased mother, and has invited the heroine to have a London season. The heroine is feeling significant pressure to marry, because her unkind stepmother has made it clear that if the heroine does not find a husband during the season she will be forced to wed an old lord. My first impression of the heroine was that she is a rather adorable young woman, what with her initially bedraggled appearance, her propensity to befriend highwaymen named Jimmy, and her caring nature that ranges from looking after her pet to having one-way conversations with a portrait of her mother. With that being said, her frequent bouts of tears and utter inability to act with more than a smidgen of sense led me quickly to be somewhat somewhat sympathetic with the hero. Don't misunderstand me, the hero is still an ass for most of the novel - treating the heroine with disdain, calling her a doxy repetitively, and acting childishly with his family members - but I can at least understand from where some of his feelings originate. The hero dislikes the heroine thoroughly from the first time he walks into the room and she mistakenly yanks his ear. He dislikes her lack of refined manners, he dislikes the commotion she invariably causes, and he especially dislikes the subconscious attraction he feels for her. The hero wants the heroine to leave immediately, and much of plot is spent with the hero trying to get the heroine to leave and the heroine stubbornly remaining. Whenever the two protagonists are not fighting, the heroine is often trying to improve her look and manners by learning from a cross-dressing gay modiste (who turns out not to be gay)... often with unsuccessful results. The hero's family add some extra comedy to the dialogue, with a sister that generally thinks the heroine's eccentricities are a great lark and a mother who tries to provide support for the heroine. Much of the continued humor occurs at the heroine's expense, so it is quite nice when she finally gets her very triumphant happy ending.
I am a reader who enjoys a moderate amount of adherence to the historical era and a strongly authentic developing romance, both elements that prevent me from describing Anya Wylde's Penelope as a flawless piece of writing. But I am also a huge fan of anything that makes me smile or laugh, and it is in that aspect that the novel truly excels. It is great fun to follow, sympathize, and be happy for Penelope as she haphazardly experiences London and eventually wins the affections of her true love. Wylde's Penelope is a story I would recommend to anyone looking for a comical diversion on a rainy day.
Note: I received a free review copy of this novel by the author.